I just figured out why it was called “The Synod on the Family.”

I just figured out why it was called “The Synod on the Family.” October 24, 2015

Keep away the fire at the family hearth


I just figured out the entire Synod. Or at least, I figured out something about it! Maybe everyone else already knows this, and I’m just slow, but it kind of blew my mind.

My husband and I were talking about people in really rotten marital situations — say, a Catholic man in a valid marriage to a woman who reacted badly to the trials of life, and turned into a horrible person. When she began to abuse the kids, they got a civil divorce, and he found someone else, and they’re really in love, and she loves his kids, and they had more kids together . . . but they recently met with their priest, and it’s painfully obvious that there is no way he can get an annulment. The old marriage was a valid marriage, awful as it was. This new couple has only two choices: (a) to remain in what is truly an adulterous marriage, and to refrain from receiving Communion indefinitely, because they’re in a state of mortal sin, or (b) to live together as brother and sister and hope the old wife dies.

Either way: awful, awful, awful.

The upshot of the first documents leaking out of the Synod seem to be saying, among other things, that the Church is trying to encourage people who can’t get annulments to be part of the Church in some way — to get them back into the community somehow, without them being officially in communion with the Church.

I wondered why. I mean, why would someone want to be in the Church if they can’t receive the Eucharist?  There are many wonderful things about the Church, but without the Eucharist . . . what’s the point? Who wants to hang around a restaurant if you never get to sit and eat?

And then I realized. The children. People will bring their children to be fed. If they feel welcome, and if they feel like they’re not utterly rejected, even though they can’t receive Communion, they will bring their children to Mass, and will bring their children to catechism class, and will bring their children to the sacraments.  They will make sure their children stay involved in the life of the Church. Or at least they might! And there is hope for the next generation . . . and also for the cousins, who always keep up on the family news, and for the friends of the family, and for the lady in the grocery line who stop and chat about  marriage and want to know all about your personal life . . .

They can tell that lady, “Well, it’s complicated, but I’m still a Catholic. There is still a place for  me. It’s not what I’d wish, but it’s better than nothing. They still want me, and I still need Him.”

Whereas, if all they hear from the Church is, “Sorry. You’re out. Shame on you. Next!” then of course they will not bring their children, and their children won’t go to Mass, or catechism, or to the sacraments. Why would they? Why would anyone be a part of an organization that not only cannot give them the Bread of Life, but won’t even acknowledge that they are trying hard to be loving? And we’ll continue in this horrible cycle where people who are really trying to be decent are barred from the sacraments, but people who waltzed into marriage without thinking it through can get their marriage declared null, and it just seems so unfair, and who wants to be part of that kind of Church that punishes love and gives a do-over for foolishness? And every conversation about the Church will be about how unfair it is, and that’s why We Don’t Go There Anymore.

That’s what I mean when I say I figured out the Synod. It really wasn’t hidden! It’s all about the family. It’s always been about the family — and the family is about more than the one marriage and the one couple in question. That’s why they didn’t call it “The Synod About Gay People and Divorce” or “The Synod About Just How Popey the Pope Plans to Be, Anyway” or “The I-Don’t-Recall-Jesus-Talking-Much-About-Marriage,-Do-Youuu? Synod” Nope. Every single human being is, for better or worse, part of a family, and because of this, what we do affects lots of other people — and how we’re treated affects lots of other people, too.

It’s about future generations, and also it’s about how the faith of children can affect parents. That’s what the Church means by “mercy.” Not “anything goes, as long as we all feel good,” but “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.” We cannot give medicine to the dead, but neither will we sign any death certificates prematurely. 

It sounds like the Church intend to make it much harder for people to accidentally or frivolously go through with invalid marriages, and it sounds like they intend to offer support for valid marriages after the wedding, so that people get married for real, and stay married for good.  But what about the generations of people who are already caught in an impossible situation?  There have been, let’s face it, several decades of failure. People have grown up never hearing a word of doctrine from the pulpit, never learning a scrap of catechism in Catholic school, never knowing the first thing about what the Church believes about sex or marriage (or the Real Presence, or anything). They’re caught, and it’s not fair, and it stinks.

But it’s not going to help anyone to pretend that real marriages weren’t real, or that invalid marriages aren’t real. You can’t just change the rules when you feel sorry for people. That will just create more people for whom to feel sorry.

How to serve the people caught in the middle? Make a place for them, and make a place for their children. Make a place for their whole family.

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  • Colin Corcoran

    I’d love to agree with you – but the final relation documents, paragraphs 84-86 leave a hole big enough to drive a truck through for the adulterous parents to receive communion and imperil their immortal souls while defiling the eucharist. It’s a two-fer. Both sides seem to be claiming victory – and the Apostolic Exhortation is still not out. If it were going to be a synod on the family, I expected different discussions altogether. Discussions on things like these:


    • Bemused

      You can’t defile the Eucharist, it’s part of God and as such is indefilable. The worst you can do is take an action that is essentially a lie and distances yourself from God.

      • Louise

        And which kills your soul.

    • Where did you find the translation of the document? I’m still looking for it…

  • Alleluiamaranatha

    Or in your example, did the “parish priest” have little clue as to whether or not the local Marriage Tribunal would rule for or against the presence of an “actual marriage” in the case of the wife who changes so abruptly after that ceremony, even to “abusing the kids”? Extreme changes in behavior can be from mental illness, addiction, etc., and can indicate a lack of true ability to covenant properly in the first place.

    Don’t go on one person’s “opinion” concerning serious matters, but use the wisdom of the trained members of the diocesan arm provided, or the mercy and wisdom of the Bishop in the local Diocese to help sort through tough areas.

    Pray, pray, pray for the Church and your Bishop that Our Lord will lead. And pray and sacrifice for the wayward spouse that a miracle may be brought forth.

    • wineinthewater

      This. Parish priests are not tribunals and are notoriously bad predictors of the outcomes of annulment processes.

  • Anne Harriss

    You say: “… without them being officially in communion with the Church”. They are not excommunicated, but in a state of mortal sin. There is a difference here. Furthermore, a believer, even in a state of mortal sin, can and should pray for grace, and always has access to the Word of God in the Bible and the Tradition of the Cjhurch. Finally, as society continues to disintegrate, there are many families facing these difficult situations: no-one, either from the clergy or from the congregation of the faithful, is going to throw stones. On the contrary: they sympathise and try to help.

  • Sue Korlan

    If being a single person in the world without religious vows were an acceptable vocation in the Church, perhaps fewer of the divorced would remarry.

    • Rebecca

      There are a couple of concerns that strike me here, Sue. Firstly, those who are divorced without annulment are still considered to be married. So it is, technically, not possible for them to live as an unmarried single person. And, secondly, while the Church may not formally recognize an unconsecrated single vocation, she also does not REQUIRE those of us not called to religious or consecrated life to be married. If there is any requirement whatsoever, it is only to be open to one’s vocation. I may be called to the vocation of marriage, but still be in the single “state” because I have not yet found the one whom my heart loves.

      • Sue Korlan

        While people who are divorced are not technically single, they are supposed to either reunite with their spouse, obtain an annulment, or live as though they were single. And insofar as the Church offers virtually no support or programs for single people, and given that society equates not having sex with someone or something as intrinsically disordered, it is not surprising that so many divorced Catholics remarry, even if they don’t have an annulment. If there were more support for the single in the Church, perhaps there would be substantially fewer divorced and remarried Catholics. Certainly some proportion of those who are currently single are called to some other state, but a fair number of us are called to live a chaste life as a single person living as a sign of contradiction to the world.

        • MightyMighty1

          Then step up in your parish and run a ministry for single people. I hear so much griping about how the Church doesn’t do X, Y, or Z for a given group, but I watch how in my large parish there is ONE family that manages every single donut Sunday, there is ONE person handling an entire children’s liturgy ministry, etc. There’s no law against saying, “Hey, Father? I’d like to get something going for people in X situation. How can we do that?” I’m working on starting a parenting support group, helping people work through “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Kids Will Talk.” Why? I see a lot of parents who don’t have a clue as to how to get a handle on kids that are spinning out of control, so they rotate between screaming, hitting, bribing, ignoring, nurturing, nagging, etc.

          And what is the Church supposed to do about the fact that people in non-married states still want to have sex and that’s hard? Say that it’s okay to do something that can lead to STDs, kids out of wedlock, Hell? It’s not the Church’s fault that abstinence is hard. It’s the nature of what it is. The Church isn’t trying to set anyone up to fail.

          And further, who is supposed to be supporting these singles, and in what way? How is that not something best handled by single people coming together, asking the priest to come in for a talk/confession sometimes? This is going to sound patronizing, and I found it that way before my life’s station changed, but it is true and I think it may need to be heard here: I thought I was busy before I had kids. And now I look back at that earlier life and just laugh. Working full time, going to school full time, and spending every weekend househunting or caregiving STILL left me more free time than I have had since we started having kids. Single people have an amazing asset that parents don’t: much more free time. It’s a fact that unless you are providing an intense level of caregiving for somebody (disabled family member for instance), you do not have the same “On Duty, All the Time, Am Neglecting to Spend Time with Kids or Spouse Every Time I Go Out to Do Something” factor that parents of growing families have. These people are in the absolute trenches of life and are in no position to be worrying about people who are in the best position to proactively build the solutions they themselves need.

          Maybe try a ministry where single people look for families in crisis and step in? Offer free sitting to moms of growing families, single parents, parents with a baby in the NICU, etc. Tutor kids or run an enrichment program that’s free/cheaper than families with kids in Catholic school/big families can typically afford, etc. This would help them, but it would also help singles who think that marriage and family are going to be so much better than where they are now. It’s easy to see the splinters in the cross you are carrying, but so valuable to realize that the vocation you’re not in has some very real difficulties that might be harder than the ones you have now.

          • Sue Korlan

            I am not sufficiently creative to figure out what needs to be done here. I would like to see a year for those of us called to live single in the world, the way there are years for religious and married people. I don’t think that can be done at the parish level. Other than that, I’m much more concerned for other single people than for myself. I have the good sense to avoid anything I think will sexually arouse me, which keeps my desire for sex to a minimum. Other single people can do the same.

            I really like your suggestion about asking a priest to come speak to a group of parish singles not looking for marriage. My one concern is that the priest would consider it an opportunity to plug religious vocations instead of giving us support for the single life we are actually called to live. Which is probably why we will never see the Church take any formal action to show us support.

          • Eileen

            Years ago, our pro life group once held an infertility seminar. We knew in advance that a couple of speakers were inclined to discuss adoption, but our group had agreed that adoption would not be a topic. Everyone was very respectful of our advanced directions and none of the speakers brought up adoption. I think you might be pleasantly surprised if you told the priest what you wanted.

        • Eileen

          I’m thinking about my own parish. Our parish has Bible studies, Adult Faith Formation, Widows or Widowers, a Divorced Catholics group, a Book Club, Parents who’ve lost a child support group, men’s prayer group, Altar Rosary society, a school play, Scouting, a thriving CYO, drives for the local food pantry, a pro life group, soup kitchen volunteers, a seniors group, mother son bowling, father daughter dances, etc. etc. But to my knowledge we don’t have anything specifically for singles.

          I know in our parish, my husband and I didn’t really meet other parishioners until our kids were old enough to be involved in activities. Now when another family is in need, we’re one of the many families who rally around with sign up genius links for chemo rides, meals, clothes, etc. The first few years we lived here, my husband and I didn’t really know anyone in our parish, but we were too busy with babies to feel left out. I can see where having a dedicated group of singles would be extremely important as I’m not sure how much we would ever have felt a part of the parish if we didn’t have kids to draw us out and force us to mingle.

          I wonder what kind of support you’d like to see? A Catholic singles group seems like it would be super easy to start up with just a predetermined meeting space and a quick blurb in your bulletin and in the surrounding parishes’ bulletins. I’m sure you’d want something more than just a singles’ group, but holding an informal meeting with some Munchkins and a bucket of Joe (or maybe some wine and cheese) might be a nice place to start and it would give you a chance to brainstorm and network with other Catholic singles in your area. I can see where starting a group might seem intimidating, particularly if you currently feel like an outsider, but maybe you just need to jump in with both feet.

          To touch on MightyMighty’s main point, I can not think of any family activity or ministry that was initiated by our pastor or our parish staff. I know in our parish and in our parish school, if you want something done, you own it. Rarely will the pastor get in your way. I can easily see how it appears that there’s this grand conspiracy to minister to families and to married people, but I suspect that’s really just who gets involved. When I think about what our pastor and parish staff do, it’s education and the sacraments and liturgies and running the church office and that’s pretty much it. Everything else is just regular people who’ve stepped up to the plate.

  • Guess Who

    My biggest interest is whether they’re going to at least support people instead of verbally bashing their families. Their definition of family is very limited and excludes everyone they claim they intend to help. It’s elitist, the survivor of a horrible marriage is inferior, but they want to help, after they’ve cast judgment.

    • Louise

      It is not a question of inferiority. It is a question of morality. People who “remarry” are adulterers. They need to stop sinning.

      • JR Yungk

        I’ve heard the Pope’s definition and I’d have to agree with Guess Who. Their families are a sin without the required components, thus inferior. This is most obvious with the judgment on gay families but it’s really all the same thing. You can soften the interpretation but this is the conclusion.

        • sez

          If the Church doesn’t point out what is wrong, how can we prevent people from going there? How can we address the problems if we can’t name them as problems?

          • JR Yungk

            You don’t get to set standards for others not interested.

          • MightyMighty1

            But you get to tell people what they get to do? What you are saying is “the only thing that is true for all people is that nothing is true for all people.” But that’s a paradox, so it’s wrong.

  • Susan Mathis

    With respect to Guess Who and Sue Korlan, I was discussing this topic with two women in my parish before mass this morning. Both are divorced and among the strongest, most prominent leaders in our church. Both agreed they preffered to remain single rather than remarry. I cannot imagine anyone considering either one of them inferior; in fact, just the opposite is true.

    • JR Yungk

      According to the church, divorce is immoral and an inadequate family, look at any of their adoption agency’s requirements and rationale.

      • sez

        What?? No.

        First, divorce is a civil thing that the Church does not recognize. It is the second marriage after divorce (without an annulment) which the Church – quoting Jesus Christ – declares as immoral.

        Example: A battered wife divorces her husband to protect herself. She has not sinned. But if she decides to marry someone else without getting an annulment, then that second marriage is adulterous, as per Jesus Christ, and His Church.

        If an adoption agency requires a stable, traditional marriage, then thanks be to God! They care more about the kids than about making adults happy. That is a great thing, indeed!

        • JR Yungk

          because anything else would be inadequate

  • echarles1

    I remember a story about a Jewish man who wanted to marry a particular woman, but the union was against Jewish law. He consulted a rabbi, perhaps to find away around this law. However the rabbi told him this was impossible and the man broke down in tears. Rather than try to work around the law, the rabbi just held him as he cried. This is a model for the church and what it means to accompany people in broken marriages and broken families. Sometime you just have to be there while they cry.

    • JR Yungk

      If you are denying the ability to have a family, is even just that really enough?

      • echarles1

        No. But the rabbis also say that no man dies with even half his desires fulfilled.

        • JR Yungk

          You can’t come up with a Christian response so you have to refer to Judaism? Denying people families is more than any Catholic or Jew I know would ever give up for a church they left.
          The most concerning thing I see here is the complete inability to recognize what they expect from others. I see claims that the church is pro-family but they want to prevent others from having one. Does anyone really think contradictions?

  • K.L.

    I am one of those children. My parents were not married in the Church but I had no clue as the youngest of 4 siblings. They took us to mass every Sunday but they did not receive communion. I never asked why. My parents were fortunate enough to have met with wonderful priests along the way and my father finally obtained an annulment when I was around 10. I feel so fortunate to have been raised in the Catholic faith and I am so grateful that my parents never felt turned away by their parishes.

    • Michelle

      My parents were also not married in the church. They have opted for a much different route to cope with their situation than yours did, K.L.. They refuse to repent or take any action to pursue an annulment. They continue to receive communion on Sunday and have told me in a very angry manner that they do not need the church to tell them they are married. They believe they are married in the eyes of God. I have tried talking to them in the past but it’s not easy for a child to have to “correct” parents. I have stopped discussing it in recent years with them because there is something blocking them from hearing the truth that I can not remove. The sad thing is they both went through 12 years of private Catholic school! I have never been conflicted about their situation, though, and it has definitely not turned me away from being Catholic. When I was young we were Christmas/Easter Catholics. I went through RCIA because I had failed to receive confirmation. As a result this, my parents slowly began to attend Mass more regularly on Sunday. Now they usually go every Sunday but still seem to be cafeteria style in their approach. They don’t care about holy days of obligation and they’re quite sure God is fine if they have a really good excuse for missing Mass on Sunday. There is also some bizarre behavior surrounding their practice of the faith. Once, right after receiving Communion my mother abruptly left church and, afterward, said she had to leave because she sensed evil in the church. On another occasion, during a holiday visit to their home, she began to get mysteriously sick a few hours before my children and I were to leave for Good Friday services (I had invited her to attend with me). She was mysteriously better when we arrived home and then, the next day on holy saturday, she began to verbally attack me for attending church on holy thursday and Good friday( I stayed very calm the whole time and participated in no behavior that would have possibly instigated such an attack.)

      Even with all of this conflict, we still have a very good relationship. All I can do is pray for them now, which, I am sorry to say I am not as faithful to as I should be.

    • Rebecca Fuentes

      My husband’s parents never married. I don’t know why (his mother has passed on and his father won’t talk it). They had 12 kids and always attended mass. Though there have been times when some of his siblings had left the church, they have all returned to it.
      During his first marriage, which was a civil marriage never blessed by any church, my husband refrained from receiving the Eucharist, though he never stopped attending mass. He didn’t start to receive again until she had walked out and it was clear that there would not be any reconciliation (and he had gone to confession). At the Spanish mass there, any number of people might not receive on a given Sunday because they are in a state of mortal sin due to their marriage–and they realize this and don’t receive communion. Some of the situations don’t have any easy resolution. My niece there has 2 kids with her boyfriend, who lives with them and supports them. They aren’t married because he’s still married to someone else and has grown kids with her. Whether it’s true or not, he thinks his wife will be deported if he divorces her. So what is the most right thing to do, for him to divorce his wife, try for an annulment, and if one comes, marry my niece? Should he go back to his wife, abandoning his children (who will feel abandoned, even if he keeps financially supporting them) with my niece? The simple thing would have been for them to never have gotten involved with each other, but it’s far to late for that. So my niece takes the children to mass, and they learn and receive the sacraments, but she doesn’t receive the Eucharist.

  • Ezbs

    Brilliant brilliant brilliant. Bravo Simcha

  • Mike

    seems to me this might also be a very western thing to be offended by not receiving communion as i think in s america and central and eastern europe ppl just don’t go up even if they just feel they shouldn’t go bc of other things and so it isn’t such a big deal if some ppl don’t go up. perhaps here we’re obsessed with being perfect which distorts our views of things. sometimes not going up is a good thing for everyone maybe.

  • Louise

    “hope the old wife dies”???? What the hell?

  • Louise

    Nobody has the right to “remarry” – it’s called ADULTERY

  • Louise

    “Why would anyone be a part of an organization that not only cannot give them the Bread of Life, but won’t even acknowledge that they are trying hard to be loving?”

    There is NOTHING loving about adultery. Let’s start there.

  • JR Yungk

    “Why would anyone …”

    I wouldn’t belong to an organization that calls me inherently disordered. I am making sure they keep it out of legislation.

    • sez

      The Church doesn’t call YOU disordered. What is inherently disordered is one of your desires, not you.

      News flash: We all – every one of us – have disordered desires. Fallen human nature, you know? The Church doesn’t condemn us. Rather, she cares enough about us to help us live out a good, Christian life in spite of our disordered desires. Those desires can become our path to holiness, if we strive to subject them to our properly-ordered will – informed by Church teachings – which we can do with His grace.

      IOWs: Christ loves you too much to leave you in your sin. He gave us the Church to help lead you out of it and into the true freedom and only He can give.

      • JR Yungk

        You don’t get to define me. I really don’t want you participating in my sex life, even verbally.

        • MightyMighty1

          Definitions come from the nature of a thing, not the person who is acting the huffiest about naming/defining things. You may not want to think you are disordered, but there is an order to things and you appear to know you are living not in accordance with that innate order.

          If this were GOMI, I would totally change my user name to “Verbal participation in my sex life.”

          • Guess Who

            So what part of your definition of “the nature of things” makes it your business to tell me how to have sex? I find you disordered.

  • Louise

    Americans are so incredibly stupid on the question of divorce, it makes me sick.